What's davintosh? Mostly just the random ramblings of a hopelessly distractible… Hey, what's that?

The Best Paper Gasket Remover

Filed under: Cars! — dave @ 12:25 am 2014/11/30

I tackled the job of replacing the leaky oil filter housing gasket on Emily’s e36 318ti this weekend, and as was expected, ran into a few snags along the way. It’s a fairly involved job, but not terribly difficult, with a couple of exceptions. Removing & replacing the stupid serpentine belt was one struggle that shouldn’t have been — that tensioner is a pain in the rear — but the thing that really caused me some consternation was the old gasket. It just didn’t want to come off.


The gasket is the green stuff on the mating surface shown above. The car and its engine have about 220,000 miles on them, and from the looks of things down there, I’m guessing that gasket was installed at the factory. And judging by the grunge on the lower side of the engine and everything underneath, that gasket had been leaking for way too long. It was stuck hard. I tried all manner of things to get it loose; the engine block is of course made from aluminum, so scraping with anything made of steel is automatically a bad idea. After a few failed attempts with lesser tools, I did take a stab at it with a wood chisel and a razor blade, but set them aside after seeing a few small gouges in the metal.

Abrasives are likewise a bad idea because any time you use an abrasive, some of the abrasive is lost from the surface, and with this particular spot it wouldn’t take much to get some of that abrasive inside the oil passages. Really bad idea there.

I had some plastic razor blades that fit into a scraper handle, but the plastic they were made from was a little on the soft side, and proved to be pretty useless. So I started scrounging around the garage & workshop for something made of harder plastic that could be used for the job, and found it; a plastic two-gang blank cover plate.


I’m not sure what kind of plastic it’s made of, but it’s plenty hard. The edge that worked best wasn’t sharp at all, it was more of a 90 degree angle from the back to the top edge with little to no radius to it. I just held the back against the mating surface and pushed against the gasket material, and it literally popped off in chunks. With the other tools I had been trying to get something sharp between the aluminum and the gasket, but that was futile; with the cover plate I had the rest of it completely gone in a matter of a couple of minutes.



I was so impressed with the job it did that I renamed it and gave it special spot in my toolbox. It may be a while before I’m removing another paper gasket, but it’ll be there when I need it!


The Best Christmas Present

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 10:16 pm 2014/10/08

Since it’s been over ten months since my last post in Medical Adventures, and this post has been in draft mode for nearly that long, I suppose it’s time to actually finish it up and hit that Publish button!

My surgery date was December 16 (where did that time go?!?), and it went smoothly, but I did end up staying an extra night in the hospital; they like to have patients who have had this surgery pass some gas before being discharged, and my gut was a little slow to wake up I guess. But it finally woke up, and I was out the door.

I got a phone call from the surgeon the evening I was released — December 18 — and he told me the pathology report had good news; all the “margins” were clear, which is to say the edges of the excised tumor were clean and showed no evidence that any cancerous tissue had been left behind. I’m now considered “cancer free”! And that’s truly cancer free, after beating the lymphoma in my jaw last summer. Woot!

Of course “cancer free” is a somewhat transient condition, especially for a cancer survivor. Two years ago I would’ve thought myself to be cancer-free, but in actuality the tumor in my jaw had already begun to make itself known, and who knows how long that thing had been growing on my kidney… Plus there is the outside chance that some of the lymphoma in my jaw survived the chemo and radiation therapy, which is why I’ve been back a number of times for blood work and the occasional PET or CAT scan. Statistically, the people most likely to get cancer are those who have had cancer before; a recurrence of the same cancer, and often different types of cancer will hit a survivor later in life. If nothing else, last year’s experience have made me realize that my days are numbered; I will live forever, but this body is just dust.

I just rewrote that last paragraph; what I wrote months ago (but don’t really remember writing it) made me sound like a bit of a pessimist — a the-glass-is-half-empty kind of guy — and I don’t think I typically think that way. I guess that’s one of the things that cancer does to you, makes you think differently about life; I don’t take for granted that I’ll live to 90 any more (in my younger days I joked that 30 was dead, and was surprised when I actually hit 30.) An early demise is a very real possibility, from cancer or from any other cause for that matter, but it’s wrong to dwell on that. God graciously gives us every day of our lives, no more, no less.

Since surgery though I’ve visited with the surgeon once — all is well — the oncologist twice. I had a CAT scan in the spring, which was clear, and Dr. Bleeker said my blood work was “stellar”! The most recent visit with the oncologist only involved blood work, and the only anomaly there was a low Vitamin D level — a normal level is between 30 and 200, but mine was 23. Low Vitamin levels are associated with cancer, but whether it’s a cause or an effect of cancer isn’t clear. Why mine is low at the end of summer is a bit of a puzzle though; I do get outside, but I also tend to stay in the shade. I also take a 1000 unit Vit. D supplement every day. Dr. Bleeker put me on a 50,000 unit megadose once a week for 8 weeks to see if we can boost those numbers a bit. We’ll see. My next appointment is in November, long after the last of the megadoses, and long after the last of summer. This time I meet my old nemesis, the PET scan machine. This time with a happy pill, and more importantly, without the Hannibal mask.

Since surgery I’ve also visited with an oral surgeon about having some bone reconstruction done and having tooth implants installed. I’m still unsure about having that done though. The doctor wasn’t sure if the bone in my jaw would be stable enough for grafting and an implant after the cancer and radiation therapy damaged it, so took some time conferring with colleagues and the radiation oncologist about it. I’m also nervous about having anyone dig around in there again; during the biopsy in April of 2013, the nerve in my jaw suffered some damage, which left my lower lip numb and tingly ever since. I dread the possibility that it might get worse. When I last spoke with the ENT doc who did that biopsy he said it probably won’t get any better, but I should be happy that it’s not worse; some patients end up with the muscles paralyzed as well. I really, really, really don’t want that. The whole reconstruction and implant process would likely take about 9 months and cost roughly $7,000. I got approval from our health insurance carrier though, which was a welcome surprise, so that would help considerably, but I’m still hesitant…

It was really good to be able to do “normal” stuff this summer. I am able to go out in the sun and do normal summer things… Last year I had to minimize my exposure to direct sunlight as much as possible; I was surprised at how much I missed doing that, and how much I’ve enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my skin. And this spring/summer we’ve done some nice normal things, like go on vacations. Yvonne & I flew to California in April for a long weekend, and in May we drove to North Carolina with the whole family. I got to dip my toes in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, let alone in the same year.

With all of this cancer business almost a year behind me, I’m thankful for all that’s happened, thankful for all the people that were involved in my cure, and most thankful for the blessing of a great God who watches over us all, and was fully involved in my cure. And it is in Him that I trust the rest of my days, whether they be many or few. Thank you, Lord.

There has been a story in the news the last couple of days about a 29 year old woman with terminal brain cancer who has chosen the path of assisted suicide to end it all before the pain she’s been told she will have becomes unbearable. Brittany’s story is a heartbreaker, and I can understand her desire to avoid what’s likely in store for her, but I still disagree with her choice. I read an open letter to Brittany today that does an excellent job of expressing my thoughts on the subject; I hope she reads it, and I pray with the author of the letter that she will ask “the question that is most important. Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying? After my ordeal with cancer and its treatment, I’m convinced that God teaches us the best things through the hardest circumstances. Walking the valley of the shadow of death will be a lesson that none of us should miss.

Mundane Faithfulness

Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Partial Nephrectomy

Filed under: Cool Technology,Medical Adventures — dave @ 11:00 am 2013/12/15

That right there is a load of $20 words, but it’s just a fancy way of saying “cutting a chunk out of the kidney without the doctor having to stick his hands in in your side.” It also describes some pretty cool technology, and it’s what they call the procedure that I’ll be going through tomorrow. But before I get into that, a quick (and belated) update on what’s happened since my last post is in order…

I checked in at the Sanford Surgical Tower (no idea why it’s called a tower; it’s not) on October 22 for the biopsy on my kidney tumor, and the procedure went very smoothly. The results came in two days later; the tumor is just a run-of-the-mill renal cell carcinoma, and can be removed surgically. That was a big relief; the thought of another round of chemo and radiation was more than I wanted to think about. I could handle it, with God’s help and that of great friends & family and an even greater wife, but if I had my druthers… Nope. I did a happy dance when I got the news!

So with that news in my back pocket, we met with the surgeon, Dr. Ahrend, a few weeks ago to discuss the next step; surgery. The urologist I spoke with first, Dr. Hofer, said that I was a good candidate for robotic laparoscopic surgery instead of “open surgery”; open surgery for a nephrectomy, partial or full, involves an incision that follows the bottom of the ribcage from the chest around to the back, half way around the torso. That was the way they did things in the days before laparoscopy, and what they still do with some patients that don’t meet the physical requirements for a laparoscopic procedure. The surgeon needs full access to the kidney, and that just isn’t possible without a huge entry point like that. The beauty of laparoscopy, and robotic laparoscopy in particular, is that the surgeon can get that full access to the organ without having to make an incision big enough to see through and to get a pair of big mitts into. Laparoscopy lets the doc manipulate tools inside the patient while watching what’s going on by way of a video feed a pair of miniature cameras. Adding the robotic angle to it makes it almost like climbing right inside…

Dr. Ahrend is a pretty young guy (as can be seen in this KELO news bit) but he is also the best guy in the business in Sioux Falls. He’s done over 700 robotic procedures since residency, and makes it sound like mine will be somewhat routine. While chatting with him at the end of our appointment, he commented that he likes to tell his mom, “all those video games are finally paying off,” and that is a good (but not great) description of how he does the laparoscopic nephrectomy with the assistance of a pair of robotic “hands.”

The “robotic” part is a little misleading though; that term has connotations of the process happening somewhat autonomously, and this machine is anything but automatic. It’s more of a bionic surgery by remote control. The history of the procedure is pretty cool; I’m told it originated with the military, with the idea that a patient who was wounded on the front line could be operated on without having to be transported far, and the surgeon could work from a safe place far from the front line. So far it hasn’t been used in that capacity, but there has been at least one procedure done over a long distance; the surgeon was in New York and the patient in Strasbourg, Germany. The big problem that can keep something like that is latency, the amount of time it takes for a signal to get from the controller to the robotics and the return trip for whatever kind of feedback signal is used. Apparently it was acceptable in this experiment, and in a normal procedure where the surgeon is in the same room as the patient, it’s seldom a problem, but that’s the sort of thing that would keep a networking guy up all night.

When doing a robotic procedure like this, the surgeon has a stereoscopic view of things through a video feed from a pair of cameras that are inserted into the area being worked on. The console that he works from has a pair of video monitors with a divider down the middle to give the surgeon a 3-dimensional view of what’s going on inside; depth perception in the surgical site is crucial.

The tools that are used are remotely manipulated by the surgeon using specialized controllers in the console; much more sophisticated than any joystick or video game controller, because what’s being controlled is much more sophisticated than anything in any shoot-em-up/crash-em-up video game. And the stakes are much, much higher than any video game.

Notice the scale of the little scissor tool in the hand of the model, then watch the video below; the surgeon’s hand movements are scaled down while his view of the surgical site are magnified so that he has a better view of things and a higher degree of control over the tools he’s using.

This YouTube video is pretty fascinating to watch, as it gives a view of exactly what the surgeon sees through his live video feed, and lets you see the dexterity of the robotic tools. It’s especially interesting because the case is very similar to my own; a male patient in his 50′s with a 2 centimeter mass on the upper quadrant of the right kidney. The video is not for the faint of stomach, as you see all the blood and gore and cutting and yuck, but it’s very informative for the same reasons. You’ve been warned!

Watching the video doesn’t give one a very good idea of how things are arranged for the surgery and where on the body the incisions are made. I’m told they make five incisions for the tools to be inserted, and from the photos & videos I’ve seen they go in from all directions. It would be interesting to attend a robotic surgery while conscious to see exactly how it’s set up and done.
Another pretty cool tool that Dr. Ahrend will be using is Firefly Fluorescence Imaging technology. With Firefly, a dye is injected into the bloodstream during surgery, and when a black light is used to illuminate the surgical site, normal tissue will fluoresce bright green, while cancerous tissue appears dark. Under normal lighting conditions it’s difficult to tell the difference between normal and cancerous tissues; the contrast that results with the Firefly dye and black light helps the surgeon know with a higher degree of certainty that all of the cancerous tissue has been removed. They also use ultrasound to help delineate the boundaries of the tumor, but adding Firefly to the surgeon’s tool belt helps immensely in making sure they get all of the tumor the first time, and don’t remove any more kidney tissue than is absolotely necessary.

Here’s another video from the Shawnee Mission Medical Center that demonstrates the use of Firefly, and gives a great demonstration of what happens before the surgeon starts digging around inside, and a good view of some of the equipment used.

That brings us to today, the day before surgery. All in all, I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing. It’s a little weird (scary weird) seeing all of that and knowing it’s what they’ll be doing to me tomorrow, but I’m ok with it. After all I’ve learned about the procedure, it’s easy to forget how new this whole robotic thing is, but the doctor’s confidence in it is pretty contagious. And knowing that I don’t have to deal with the aftermath of open surgery is huge!

My biggest comfort in all of this though is knowing how many people are praying for us. It’s really a humbling thing being on the receiving end of all that, but the prayers really do make a difference. I am extremely grateful for each and every person lifting us up, and for their concern for us. God is faithful, and I trust that he will see us through this. As for the recovery, I’m really looking forward to some time off; I’m taking two weeks of medical leave from work. It seems like such a long time since I’ve had any time off from work where I wasn’t busy ahead of time getting ready for going somewhere. This time I’ll just be at home, resting. For now though the waiting is the hardest part. Nothing like a bit of anxiety over the procedure, mixed with fasting from everything but clear liquids for the 24 hours leading up to it, plus an enema waiting for me tomorrow morning. It’s gonna be a Monday like no other.

I’m actually looking forward to getting this surgery done and out of the way. I may be speaking too soon, but I think the surgery and recovery will be a walk in the park compared to chemo and radiation. The thing I’m really looking forward to is hearing the news that I’m cancer-free. That will be worthy of a celebration!

Here are some other links that I found to be of interest when researching this topic. Again, many of them show actual surgical procedures, so click with caution.

Information on kidney cancer
News4 da Vinci partial nephrectomy with Firefly
HD Robotic Partial Nephrectomy using “Firefly” Fluorescence Technology
Firefly Fluorescence Robotic Surgery With da Vinci
Robotic Partial Nephrectomy performed by Vipul Patel, MD

Happy Birthday Dr. Who, Plus A Bunch Of Jokes Really Fast

Filed under: Fun!,Geek — dave @ 10:16 am 2013/11/23

In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of Dr. Who, here is a goofy Dalek joke from the Vlog brothers, mixed in with a bunch of other goofy jokes. I was too busy laughing (at some of them) to pay attention to the count… I’ll take his word for it there are 53. And some are quite good.

Also, gotta love Google’s Dr. Who doodle for today:

More Vlog Brothers’ Joke Videos: 31 Jokes for Nerds, 50 More Jokes, 50 Jokes in 4 Minutes and 50 Jokes.

( – -)
((‘) (‘)

Listen, Smith Of The Heavens

Filed under: Faith & Worship,Fun! — dave @ 11:04 pm 2013/10/16

Can’t say I’ve ever heard Icelandic folk music before, but after hearing this beautiful song, sung a cappella (by the group Arstidir) in a cavernous subway in Germany, I think I’m hooked. Now I just need to learn a little Icelandic.

The song in the video is “Heyr Himna Smiður”. It was originally written as a poem by Kolbeinn Tumason in 1208, while on his deathbed (the story of his death is sad and tragic.) The melody that accompanies the text was written by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, over 700 years later. With a hat tip to the contributors at Wikipedia, “the original text is presented here with 19th-century Icelandic spelling and a rough, literal translation into English.” The translation is a beautiful psalm to the Lord God; it could’ve been penned by King David himself. But I have no doubt the poem is even more lyrical when spoken in the original language.

Heyr, himna smiður,
hvers skáldið biður.
Komi mjúk til mín
miskunnin þín.
Því heit eg á þig,
þú hefur skaptan mig.
Eg er þrællinn þinn,
þú ert drottinn minn.

Guð, heit eg á þig,
að þú græðir mig.
Minnst þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín.
Ryð þú, röðla gramur,
ríklyndur og framur,
hölds hverri sorg
úr hjartaborg.

Gæt þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín,
helzt hverja stund
á hölda grund.
Send þú, meyjar mögur,
málsefnin fögur,
öll er hjálp af þér,
í hjarta mér.

Listen, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one,*
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
every human sorrow
from the city of the heart.

Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.

* or mild king. This is a pun on the word mildingur.

The Kidney

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 11:39 pm 2013/10/15

I have a mass on my right kidney, which was found somewhat accidentally during the diagnostic work done for the lymphoma in my jaw. That mass was assumed to be a typical renal cell carcinoma nodule. Treatment of renal cell carcinoma is usually pretty straightforward; partial or complete nephrectomy (removal of kidney tissue.) With that assumption, I went into the first meeting today with my urologist, Dr. Hofer, optimistic that being cancer free was just around the corner. Sure, getting there involved surgery, most likely a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy, but compared to the chemotherapy and radiation therapy I’ve already been through, that should be a breeze. Relatively speaking, of course.

But, again the words “unusual” and “different” and “interesting” came up during the appointment. Dr. Hofer said my case would make a good trick question in a urologists’ exam. The curve ball that made him question the off-the-cuff diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma is the fact that I’ve already been treated for lymphoma, combined with what he saw in the PET scan; the mass just didn’t look like a typical renal cell carcinoma. He’s been doing this stuff for 20-plus years, and has seen a fair number of them, so he ought to know what they look like. He also said that lymphoma will occasionally grow on the kidney, and is easily mistaken for something else. But unlike renal cell carcinoma which is usually a contiguous mass and easily removed, lymphoma is more diffuse; surgical removal is less effective because the tumor’s boundaries aren’t well defined, and it often metastasizes to other organs.

So, given my history and the physical appearance of this particular mass, Dr. Hofer suggested performing a biopsy of the mass before diving in and cutting out a chunk of the kidney. If the biopsy shows that it is indeed renal cell carcinoma, then I’ll go back in for the partial nephrectomy. But if it turns out to be lymphoma, I will still have both my kidneys intact, and will go back to Dr. Bleeker and Sanford Oncology for more treatment. I’m not looking forward to that, but…

The biopsy will be done by one of the Sanford Radiology docs; they’ll use an ultrasound to guide a probe to the proper spot on my kidney to get a sample of the mass. Much less invasive than laparoscopic surgery, but will still require an overnight stay at the hospital. We don’t have a date just yet; should find that out tomorrow.

It’s a bit of a disappointment; here I thought I was a surgical procedure away from being done with this stuff, but now we’re faced with more questions and more diagnostics to try & get some answers.

BMWotD — ’95 540i M-Sport In The Best Color

Filed under: BMW Of The Day — Tags: , , , — dave @ 3:56 pm 2013/10/06

The e34 M-Sport 540i pushes a lot of the right buttons for me (I’ve drooled over them before) but this one is extra special, and the reason can be summed up in one word; Hellrot. Red cars just make me jiggy. The ’91 Dinan 535i Turbo that caught my eye a while back was nice, but this one, with all the M-Sport goodies. Mmmmm! Unfortunately, and as usual, the asking price for this one is way outside my price range, but a guy can dream.

1995 BMW 540i M-Sport Hellrot Red/M-Cloth Hurricane Manual Sedan
In late 1995, just prior to switching to the E39 5-series body style for the 1997 model year (there is no such thing as a U.S. 1996 model year 5-series), BMW pumped one last breath of life into the V8 powered, E34-bodied, 540i for the U.S. market: The 1995 540i M Sport.

All Clear

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 8:25 am 2013/10/02

Wow; thought I hit publish on this one already. Now it’s old news (so I guess that would be “olds” instead of “news”?) I got some really good news from Sanford Oncology following the PET scan two weeks ago; the lymphoma in my jaw is gone!

I’m still not out of the woods, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. There is still the mass in my kidney to be dealt with, so I have an appointment with a urologist in a couple of weeks to talk about the options for getting that removed (more on that when I know more.)

As for the lymphoma, since things are clear, I only need to return to the oncologist in three months for a checkup, then go back for another PET scan in six months.

Life is good. God is better.

Bushy-Tailed Tree Rats

Filed under: Cars!,The House — dave @ 8:29 am 2013/09/20

We only have a single-car garage, which typically doesn’t have room for even a single car, so parking a car or three on the street is pretty much normal at our house. Just down the street from our property there is a walnut tree between the curb and the sidewalk, not far from where the 528e is usually parked.

A couple of days ago I saw a squirrel run out from under that car, and something made me think that he hopped down from the underside of it… I didn’t give it much thought it at the time, but this morning, while driving that car to work, I heard a little ‘thump’ as I was slowing for a stoplight, then saw a green walnut go rolling along the curb into the intersection. Great.

Looks like I need to do some inspecting and see how many more nuts that bushy-tailed tree rat has squirreled away in my car. And how much damage he’s caused in the process.

The In-Between Time

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 12:50 pm 2013/09/12

It’s been a while since my last update, so I suppose I’m way overdue for another. Actually, this post was started weeks ago, but it never seems quite finished, and instead of just finishing it, I find myself going back to it again & again and revising big chunks of it. Even the post title has probably changed a half-dozen times… Probably not the most efficient way to get the job done, but… It may have ended up a little on the wordy side too; just a warning. Good thing I don’t charge by the hour or by the word.

My last post ended with the results of my second PET scan in late June. While the procedure was a little rough, it yielded some good news; we had gained some serious ground on the cancer in my jaw, and we were ready to roll into the next phase of treatment, radiation therapy. Those treatments weren’t much more fun than the last PET scan, and even now, seven weeks out from my last treatment, I’m still feeling the lingering side-effects. The positive side of this in between time is that I haven’t even seen the inside of a hospital, clinic or infusion center since July 25 (happy dance!) My next appointment is for blood work and a third PET scan on September 18, followed by a visit with my oncologist to go over the results. It’s been really good to not be picked on for a while after about 17 weeks of being poked, prodded, gouged, scanned, pumped full of toxins and and being irradiated by a linear accelerator. Recovery from the radiation seems to be much slower, but I’m finally starting to feel closer to normal (whatever that is; I think I forgot.)

To recap what has happened since that last scan…

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